In this series Women and Golf focus on what golf means to a female golfer and the significant impact golf has on their life, and ultimately on the lives of others. In this article we speak to Kelly Saddleton on her Golf Story.
If you’d told Kelly Saddleton 18 months ago that golf would be the trigger that brought her marriage back from the brink, she would have laughed in your face.
“I’d just got to the stage where I couldn’t stand the idea of golf. To me, it was the sport that took my husband away from the house all weekend. I was the stereotypical golf widow, and to be frank, I’d had enough.”
It’s a far cry from the golf-centric world she has found herself immersed in, carving out a new career promoting junior golf in Norfolk and finding herself increasingly respected as a spokeswoman for women in golf. Ironically, it was the couple’s marriage counsellor who first suggested she should give golf a go.
“It was obvious that my resentment for the game was causing us problems,” she confesses. ‘The therapist suggested I give a little and join my husband, Aaron, out on the course. Honestly, my impression of golf clubs was unwelcoming and stuffy, and given the time it takes to play, and that I have two young children, the course was probably the last place I’d ever have considered going.”
It was a novel solution that might have been the breaking point for some marriages, but in hindsight, athletic and social, it was clear that Kelly was the ideal fit for a sport she’d long considered elitist and boring.
Few, however, could have envisaged the whirlwind ride that would follow. She was soon throwing herself into the new endeavour, recruiting twelve members of her family and friends to join her as they made their fledgling steps in the game together. Those first encounters were eye-opening for the 32-year-old who was blown away, not so much that she enjoyed the game, but that her experiences were at complete odds with the perceptions she and her fellow beginners had held about the golf club environment.
“The local club was incredibly friendly and affordable for the kids, yet they were doing nothing to raise awareness about the club in the local community. It was baffling.”
Before long, Kelly began setting up Your Norfolk Golf, promoting the sport in the region and helping golf clubs to manage their websites and social media platforms.
From there, her journey into the sport has escalated at lightning speed. A blog, media and photography work at tournaments, even her own golf day, are now part and parcel of life for the ‘Mother of Golfers’.
Despite her remarkable about-face, the main motivation for Kelly remains her family and the transformative effect that the sport has had not only on her relationship but also on her two young children.
For seven-year-old Henry, who has already picked up a gross win in an U13s tournament and clocked several phenomenal results in junior events, discovering the sport has been more than simply learning a new skill.
“Henry is on the autistic spectrum, and by introducing him to golf he has found an individual sport that allows him to express himself and thrive."
"All of a sudden we were having teachers telling us that he was having the confidence to speak up in class and interact with the other children.”
Meanwhile for Darcy, 9, her mum’s new-found passion has come with its own benefits. Nowhere more so than at the GolfSixes tournament, where the budding young golfer was introduced to some of her idols, including Mel Reid, who talked with the family about her own path into the sport.
Never afraid to speak her mind, the importance of positive role models, particularly in social media, is a subject that Kelly has become increasingly outspoken about, especially when it comes to how platforms like Instagram can affect Darcy and other young girls playing the game.
In a sport still adjusting to the changing online landscape and what it might mean for the future of the sport, female influencers have never been more relevant, but for Kelly, the label is one that sits rather uncomfortably.
“For me promoting the game is not about getting a blue tick by my Instagram, it’s about connecting with women and girls who might not otherwise consider picking up a club."
"It’s important that juniors know that whatever their ability and however they look, the most important thing is going out and having a good time."
As for her husband. Do they play many events together? Rarely, she never has the time!